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Saturday 18 November 2017
Commentary

Anger in the prisons

Debbie Jacob writes a weekly column for the Newsday.

When I was told the boat to Carrera was down, and I would have to take a small motor boat to the island prison instead, I said, “I don’t usually go on the high seas in a bathtub.” But I had to get to Carrera on that day so I promised myself I would not panic.

That was the day I met Glenford Gardner, the prison officer who ferried officers and inmates between Carrera and Chaguaramas. Never could I have imagined that two months later, on October 26, Gardner would be gunned down as he returned to his home at Sea Trace in Bagatelle, Diego Martin.

I distinctly remember Gardner on that August day because he laughed and joked with the other prison officers in the boat. Everyone knew Gardner; everyone liked him. It did not feel scary out there in the open water because of him.

On the way back to Chaguaramas, we did not have clear skies or smooth sailing. Rain delayed our departure, and when the prison officers who accompanied me finally decided we would brave the weather, I really didn’t think we should be out there under those grey, ominous skies. The water appeared to be much too choppy.

“Are you sure it’s safe?” I asked Gardner. He smiled and said, “It’s really not bad.”

I had no idea how bad things could get. I could never have imagined that Gardner, of all people, would be gunned down. Gardner worked for prisons, but he did not work inside the prisons in the capacity that most prison guards work. He just drove the boat. It’s hard to imagine he would be anyone’s target.

But no one is safe in this country. We fool ourselves if we think otherwise. We feel that only certain people — like prison guards — are on a hit list. If this is true, I blame much of the danger that prison guards face on the long delays in the justice system.

Prison is the place where men on capital murder charges sit for six, eight or more years waiting for their trials to creep through the court system. Prison is the place where men’s anger grows, festers and explodes. This, we have to understand.

Yes, I believe there are evil people who have no respect for life and who will commit murders regardless of the time they spend in prison; regardless of whether or not they have a fair and speedy trial, but let’s get real here. We have a prison population on remand that is larger than the convicted population and prison officers have to deal with that overabundance of anger spilling out of every overcrowded cell. This is simply unfair.

I do not seek to rationalise that anger. I make no apologies for those who assassinated Gardner. This was a despicable, inexcusable act. But I do not lay the blame for this murder solely on the people who murdered him. I lay it at the doorstep of our dysfunctional criminal justice system that helps to create this toxic environment.

We are all to blame for growing crime in this country because we do not insist on speedy trials. Our passive behaviour allows this dysfunctional system to spin out of control, and it jeopardises the lives of good men working in the prison system.

We spend too much time speculating on unnecessary questions. We even try to find flaws in the victims of crime so that we can explain their deaths. But there is no explanation. There is only a problem, which starts with overstuffing our prisons and creating a sense of injustice.

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